James Jesse Strang – Michigan’s Mormon King

Most Michiganians are unaware that Michigan had its own Mormon American King who was able to wrestle control of a band of islands from gentile fishermen, the primary being Beaver Island where the Mormon headquarters was firmly ensconced.

James Jesse Strang was an able convert of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Joseph enjoyed James so much that he quickly made him an elder and sent him to establish the church in Wisconsin.  But soon after Joseph was assassinated.  The new Church wrestled for a successor.  Brigham Young was the most popular candidate, however James Strang produced a letter allegedly signed by Joseph Smith that passed leadership to Strang in the untimely event of Joseph’s death.

Thereafter James Jesse Strang proclaimed himself leader of the Church and the Brigham Youngites went their separate way.  Incidentally, the main Mormon Church follows in the tradition of Young, not Strang.  Strang never had more than 12,000 converts to his calling.

Strang searched for a new place from which to head the church and was lead to Beaver Island located in the waters of upper Lake Michigan.  Here he established his church, adopted the practice of polygamy (James had several wives), and ruled a community by his personal strict disciplinary standard.

Establishing friendly relations with the Native Indians, Strang was both shrewd and successful.  At one time, he was elected State Representative and was wise in his affairs.  But many of the gentile locals from the surrounding areas complained against Strang and his followers stating that they were pirates stealing everything from fish to farm goods.  In 1851 the war ship Michigan paid a visit to Beaver Island arresting Strang and several of his followers.  He was brought with haste to Detroit where Strang was tried.  Defending his own case in a dramatic style he used the “persecuted for righteousness sake” card and was acquitted.

On the 15th of August 1855, an article was published in the Daily Democrat concerning the Beaver Island Mormons that read…

This island (Beaver) has an excellent harbor, and is 12 miles long and 8 broad.  Its exports are wood, potatoes and fish.  Its imports, Mormons, from all parts of the globe – mostly females.  If they bring chastity with them, it is soon lost, for polygamy is an article “in the creed” here, as well as in Utah.  The population is about 800 – from the small begining some six years ago of 30.  The women wear the bloomer costume, and many of them are very fine looking, some of them well educated.  They are from most every State in the Union, and a large number from the factory districts of Great Britain.  Some come here with considerable funds – some are runaway daughters – some have rid themselves of their husbands, and got here in some manner.  It is a good place to find absconded wives, if they are worth looking after.

Strang, an educated, cunning lawyer, with a thorough knowledge of human nature, and withal a “Philadelphia lawyer,” is the monarch “of all he surveys.”  His first wife resides in Wisconsin.  He has particular favor to two women here, by whom he has children.  Strang resides near the wharf.  He is postmaster and editor of the newspaper, in which he defends the order.

Not a being resides on the Island except the “Saints” – a Gentile cannot stay among them.  Lately a fisherman, not of the “faithful,” went among them, and met with a horrid murder.

Strang was a member of the Baltimore Convention in 1840, to nominate a candidate for the Presidency, and is now one of the hard-shell democracy, and also a member of the Michigan Legislature.  Just before election, he writes to the Cass fuglemen, at Detroit, to know how many voices they require to carry the district for Judge of any other office.  As he is inspector of elections for his town and returning officer, he can furnish the requisite amount, even if the number amounts to more people of all ages than there is on the Island.  A “blessed saint’ he is to the party.  Michigan will, in the end, have much trouble with these people, but as long as demagogues purchase their votes, agreeing not to molest them, they may go on swimmingly.  He has been indicted several times.  On one occasion the revenue cutter, with loaded cannon, had to go to take him, but he got clear on trial, as he has many times.”

King James didn’t take these accusations lightly.  In a rebuttal published 11 October 1855 from his own Nation’s newspaper, the Northern Islander, he wrote…

My attention has been called to a communication in the Democrat…containing some pretended information concerning the Mormons in general, and myself in particular, which, perhaps, calls for more than a mere passing notice from me.  Possibly I have as little disposition to falsify the facts…and a good deal more means of knowing the truth.

Of notoriety, you will readily believe that I have more than I desire; and as to defending the Mormons from the numerous vices which rumor, with her thousand tongues, charges them with, I know as well anyone how vain the task.  I confess to some natural sensitiveness as to the public opinion of myself.  Since becoming a Mormon I have made some effort, with what success I can hardly say, to content myself with the prospect of living and dying hated.  Whether content or not, I have no hope of avoiding that fate.

Still that natural love of truth, of which I hope no man is quite divested, rather calls for some correction from me of errors so gross as some of those of your correspondent.

I have no doubt many persons prefer to all things some account of “Mormon atrocities,” but I cannot think that many of your readers would regret the falsification of history for so small a gratification.

The Beaver Islands, with an export trade in wood, potatoes and fish amounting to three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars during the last year, do import something besides Mormons; and the population capable of sustaining itself at cutting cord wood, raising potatoes and catching and curing fish, is made up of something besides lewd females and their paramours.

The Mormon settlements of this region are not confined to Beaver Island.  They extend to the whole Beaver and Fox Island groups, which, with the two Manitue Islands, constitute the new county of Manitue, and sparsely over the southern half of Emmet county, the north half being in the hands of Ottawa Indians.

These settlements, by the official census of May 1854, contain a population of 4,971, of whom 2,477 are males, and 2,524 are females.  Excess of females 77, or as 64 females to 63 males.

The quantity of fish caught, packed, inspected and exported during the year preceding the 1st of May 1854, was, by the official returns, 33,863 barrels, of 200 pounds to the barrel, worth at this place $7.00 per barrel, or the snug sum of $237,041.  Rather a handsome…export to be produced by a population which your correspondent scales down to 800, consisting principally of lewd women.

The statement…that a large portion of the population are from the “factory districts” of England, is of no consequence, except as showing it is utter ignorance of the matter.  From my personal acquaintance throughout the Mormon settlements, I am warranted in saying that there is but one family here, raised in England, and that consisting of an old bachelor and a widowed sister, who have resided in Pittsburgh twenty years, and five here.  The population is more purely American that any north-western settlement of the same extent in the range of my acquaintance.

The assertion that a portion of the population is made up of “runaway daughters” and women who have “rid themselves of their husbands,” is simply false.  There is not nor ever has been a runaway daughter among the Mormons, in Manitue and Emmet counties.

Since the commencement of the Mormon settlement here, in 1847, three runaway wives have reached here.  Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Coltrin, from Parma, and Mrs. Beebe, from Thetford, Mich.  The Mormons gave them no countenance.

Mrs. Brown married a fish trader, not a Mormon, and went to Kenosha, Wisconsin.  The other two were followed by their husbands, and by the advice of the Mormons returned with them.  Besides these three I have never heard of a runaway wife in the Mormon settlements, and I hope never to hear of another.

On the last of these occurrences, that of Mrs. Beebe, the Islander, a newspaper published here, made public our solemn protest as a people against being involved in any such acts.  From that protest, I make the following extracts:

“The marriage tie, spite of all men, is a tie for life, and more than for life.  It is hardly possible that a man should treat his wife so ill that she will permanently leave him.  Thousands run away, but all, all return.  Whoever assists one against her husband, however deserving, however much an object of sympathy, is sure to meet with curses rather than thanks, even from her.

“We hope this will be the last transaction of this kind in this quarter.  It is a matter of serious regret that any woman should be maltreated by her husband.  But we wish to see no more runaway wives here.  If this woman had brought thousands and bestowed it all on us, it would not compensate for the injury she has done us.” – Northern Islander, Aug. 14, 1851.

I do not acknowledge the right of any man to drag my private affairs before the public, by saying that my “first wife resides in Wisconsin,” and that I “have particular favor to two women here, by whom I have children.”  Yet I should not notice it but for the implication that my first wife is a “runaway wife,” or a separated woman.  I cultivate a farm of 760 acres in Walworth county, Wisconsin, where I spend about one-fourth of my time.  It is convenient to have some person there who has more than a hireling’s interest in the success of my business, and Mrs. Strang, or, if you please, my first wife, stays there most of the time to take charge, occasionally spending a winter with me at the Capitol, or on this Island.

I am nevertheless quite willing your readers should believe that I “have particular favor for two,” four or ten women, whom I provide for, and who bear children to me, and whom I would marry if the law permitted me.  If they imagine that in this I violate any law of this State, they are mistaken.

As to the question of morals I am prepared to justify it.  And upon any question of morals, until the law interposes, I have a right to judge for myself.  Though I acknowledge myself amenable to public opinion, I shall not answer at the bar of men who avail themselves of every opportunity to corrupt a neighbor’s wife or prostitute his daughter.  I never did such a deed, and never stepped my foot inside a house of ill fame.  Doubtless, there are men who think those venial offences, and mine mortal.  On the other hand, I think mine no offence at all, and theirs very abominable – destructive of peace and life.  If I am in error, I err with Patriarchs, Prophets and Apostles.

I am not postmaster, and have never been, except about four years, at Ellington, N.Y.; nor have I been editor of a newspaper for several years, though I write regularly for several.

I was a lawyer in Chautauque county, N.Y., several years, but am not aware that in any sense I am a Philadelphia lawyer.  If I have any reputation whatever as a lawyer in court, it is owing solely to the fact that newspapers have given me a world-wide fame as a great criminal; and as the courts have uniformly acquitted me, people who knew nothing of the facts imagined I must be a very talented or very technical lawyer to so successfully slip through the meshes of the law.  Their primary mistake is in imagining that I was ever in those meshes.

For my kingly state, if I am “monarch of all I survey,” it is because people will have it so.  I have not seized or sought power.  Whatever I have of it, I hold it by the tenure of the hearts of the people.

It is true that I decide all controversies among men, all questions of right and obligation between them, throughout a territory sufficient for a respectable State; that no appeal has ever been taken from a determination of mine, and that my awards are performed without review, question or process.  To any man these results would be the proudest monument to his intelligence and virtue.  To me I believe they are accounted the badges of crime.  I shall content myself in appealing from the judgment of my fellows to that of posterity, and of God.

Of our Yankee population, the most litigious people in the world, out of five thousand, not one has ever been found to refuse to submit any question of his right and liabilities to my judgment, nor to object to the justice of my awards.

Masters of vessels and insurance agents, having maritime controversies for 50 miles around, submit them to my judgment almost as uniformly as if I had, by the law of the State, an exclusive jurisdiction here.

And there is scarcely an Indian from Green Bay to the Grand Manitoulin, but if he suffers an injury at the hands of a white man, appeals to me for redress.

This is the very accusation of my enemies.  It is thus “I am monarch of all I survey.”  If this fealty is voluntary, whoever presented a higher evidence of justice?  If it is involuntary, why does not the State vindicate its sovereignty by taking the teeth out of the mouth of this whelp, before it grows to a lion?

I may add that several of the new counties in this part of the State are without a judiciary, and others are provided only with courts held by Justices of the Peace.  At each session of the Legislature, when I have been a member, I have labored most earnestly to remedy this defect in our laws; at the former session with but partial success, and at the latter with none at all.  If it is a fault that I have acted as peacemaker and Judge throughout a large district of country, with a jurisdiction apparently more potent that any of the courts possess, it is not my fault that the necessity of some such voluntary jurisdiction exists.  It is not improbable that the fear that a Mormon would be elected Judge of a judicial circuit, with a seat on the supreme bench, may have had something to do with the continuation of this state of things.

Your correspondent makes us 30 in number six years since, and now strong enough to banish all Gentiles and take the life of such as venture over the boundary, and to laugh at the authority of the State.  If this is true, the State must wake up or perish.

I have no connection with the “hard shell democracy,” and very little to do with political parties and should have had nothing but that a political party in this State attempted not only to deny Mormons all share in the administration of government, but to ignore them as citizens.

When in 1850 a ticket was put in nomination for county and judicial officers, publicly pledged to exclude Mormons both from office and the jury box, and to deny them legal protection and process at law in all cases whatsoever, I cast my first vote since the election of Gen. Harrison to the Presidency.  When I see an end of that crusade I shall have cast my last.  And whatever party most secures the freedom of religion, with that shall I affiliate, while reluctantly forced into politics.  Here I meet all men, and here I part with all.

It is proper for you to know that the accusation of your correspondent that “demagogues purchase our votes, agreeing not to molest us,” and that Strang is inspector of elections and returning officer, and “just before election writes to the Cass fuglemen to know how many votes are necessary” to carry the election, and furnishes them, “even if the number amounts to more people than there are of all ages on the Island,” is a two-edged sword, and cuts both ways.

Kinsley S. Bingham, the present Republican Governor of Michigan, received 650 of the 695 votes cast at the last November election in the country of Emmet, (then including Manitue.)  I think you would not like to accuse him (and his worst enemies here do not) of obtaining those votes by “agreeing not to molest us, and to let us go on swimmingly”.

Against Bingham, that old Democratic wheel horse, John S. Barry, was a candidate.  It was known that the canvass would be a close one.  Was the Democratic party bankrupt, that it could not bid for those votes, either money, immunity, patronage; that it could not promise, coax, cajole or threaten; or is there something lying deeper in the popular heart than demagoguism, which controls this vote? – The Governor’s case is not alone.

The vote at that election was a very large one; far the largest ever given here.  It is therefore the proper test whether we have a practice of over voting or making false returns.

I have already stated that in May the population was, by the official returns, 4,971.  In November following, with the benefit of the summer emigration, the entire vote was but 695, or less than one in seven.  In the entire State the vote was one in six of the population, or about 17 per cent higher than in the Mormon settlements.

If our elections are fraudulent, why have they not been set aside?  The opportunities have been abundant.  Why have I been allowed to sit in the Michigan Legislature, both by a Democratic and a Republican House, against a most powerful effort to unseat me?

At the last election, I was returned for the district consisting of the organized counties of Newaygo, Oceana, Grand Traverse, Emmet and Cheboygan, and several unorganized counties attached.  A powerful demonstration was made to unseat me. – It was a triangular canvass.  I held every vote in Emmet, and all but one in Cheboygan; Mr. Lay had all but six in Grand Traverse, and stood next to me in the canvass, and the allegation against me was that Emmet county had over voted more than my plurality.  Newaygo and Ocean voted nearly unanimous for Mr. Brooks.  The examination of documents on file in the Secretary of State’s office, showed my vote 695 in a population of 4,971, or less than one in seven; and his 367 (and six against him,) in a population of 911, being more than one in three.  So ends every such contest against me.  After a great flourish of trumpets, this thing looked so bare faced, Mr. Lay shrank from the exhibition.

The fact that I received a unanimous vote save one, in the adjoining county of Cheboygan, containing but two Mormon families, is a singular comment…that we are so hostile to the Gentiles as to banish and murder them.

If any of your readers will look into the “Catholic Almanac and Directory,” under the head of “Diocese of Detroit,” they will find recorded, right in the midst of us, four churches, La Croix, Middletown, Arbor Croche, and Beaver Island.  I presume these churches are not kept up without some “Gentiles” to attend them.  A few must have been more lucky than the murdered fisherman.

We also have in our midst a Presbyterian church, the minister of which, the Rev. A. J. Porter, we recently elected to the respectable office of Judge of Probate.  Much more hospitable than cutting his throat, and burying him beneath the rough sands.

I have been indicted several times, as your correspondent says; and he might have added that on several of these indictments I have been tried in the courts of my persecutors, being prejudged and foredoomed, and have, nevertheless, in every instance been honorably acquitted.

And more, I have been imprisoned on one charge and another, trumped up against me, but in fact for the witness of Jesus and the word of God, so many times, that by the utmost stretch of memory I cannot count them over; but I never failed of getting liberated, as soon as a respectable Judge could go through the legal forms.

I have sat sixteen days on trial for my life, listening to the false tale of each witness against me as one would listen in a theatre, without a play bill, have beheld the ponderous grates – have walked amidst clanking chains, or gazed between bars of iron for sun light, and beheld the ghastly gibbet, and I yet live beloved of many wise and good, ready to serve or be sacrificed for my fellow men.

It is news to me that a “revenue cutter” has accomplished my arrest.  When so few honors are conferred I cannot afford to dispense with any that rightfully belong to me.  I believe that I am the first “foreign potentate,” upon whom the United States have conferred the distinguished honor or bringing him into the country in a national vessel.  At a subsequent date Gov. Kossuth shared the honor.  Previously Generals La Fayette and Santa Anna had only been sent home in men of war ships.  Twice the United States have made me their guest on board the war steamer Michigan, from my own Capitol to the Republican Court; and once in the same august style returned me to the bosom of my people.  The revenue cutter Ingham, though provided with an extra armament, only acted a subordinate part in the squadron.

Truly it requires some power of face to avoid laughing at the relation of these occurrences. – But it is a little over four years since they were the issues of life, to a community of 600 people.

Of wealth, I have more than enough, and would gladly part with three-quarters of it, so I could be sure it would be used for the same philanthropic purposes to which I devote its incomes.  From choice, I dwell here in a small, plain log house, half filled with library and cabinet, which with its rural surroundings requires little labor in preserving, devoting the largest share of my time to the study of the natural sciences.

From duty, some portion of every week is devoted to theology and the administration of public affairs.  But nothing short of the necessity of providing for the safety from mobs and lawlessness, of those who have trusted all they have and all they hope for, on their faith in my divine mission, has ever called me for one moment from my favorite studies to politics.  I envy not the man who considers me a proper object of assault.

Truly and sincerely,

James J. Strang.

Just a few short months after James wrote these words he was ambushed and assassinated by a couple of his disgruntled converts on the Beaver Island docks as James was once again being lead down to be arrested and tried for alleged crimes.  James did not die on Beaver Island.  He was taken back to his home in Wisconsin where he died six weeks later.  He was buried in the Vorhee Cemetery but later reinterred by his family in the Burlington Cemetery in Burlington, Racine County, Wisconsin.

An article published in the Jackson Citizen Patriot on 17 February 1882 revisits this perilous account…

In June, 1856, the war steamer Michigan again visited Beaver harbor, and King Strang left his house to call upon the officers.  As he was stepping upon deck two persons sprang from behind a wood pile and fired two shots, one of which struck Strang in the head and the other near the spine.  They were mortal wounds, but he lived nearly a month, cared for by the woman who was his lawful wife, who rejected his “revelations” but clung to him in the belief that death alone could release her marriage vow.  Thus ended the Mormon kingdom in Michigan.  His property was confiscated, his tabernacle burned, his printing office sacked, and his library destroyed.”

An 1889 statement given of the murder as witnessed by Captain Alex St. Barnard of the U. S. Steamer Michigan states…

“I was an officer on the United States steamer Michigan for 25 years.  She was the first iron boat that navigated the lakes…we generally took on wood at Beaver island.  There were between 2,000 and 3,000 Mormons living there then, with their leader, King Strang, besides the Gentiles, who were mostly fishermen and wood-choppers…I was well acquainted with the king, for he often came on board the ship.  He was a fine looking, sociable sort of a man; but he was not very popular among the Gentiles…the king was arrested and taken to Detroit, with his twelve apostles, where he pleaded his won case – and won it, too; and after that things were worse than ever.  When we stopped as usual on one of our trips around the lakes, the complaints were so bitter that our captain made up his mind to arrest him again, and he told me to find him and bring him on board the ship.  I went to the temple, first, where I was told that he had just gone home.  I found him sitting in his room, with four of his wives, where he received me very cordially, and when I told him my errand, accompanied me willingly.  He linked arms with me and we walked along talking pleasantly.  Just as we stepped on the cock and started to walk down the narrow passage between the piles of wood, two of his enemies sprang from some hiding place and shot at him.  He clung to my arm until they began to pound him with the butt end of their pistols, when he let go and fell, leaving me covered with blood from my head to my feet.

“There were no telephones in those days, but the news spread in a very short time, and a howling mob of men, women and children gathered around their dying chief.  One surgeon came on shore and did what he could for the poor fellow, but nothing could save him.

“The murderers ran aboard the ship and gave themselves up – the best thing they could have done, for the mob would have pulled them in pieces if they had caught them.  Of course suspicion fell on me, many thinking I had led him to his death, and I received several friendly warnings to be on my guard, but I was not molested.  A detachment of troops were sent to bring the fishermen and their families on board the ship, as it was considered unsafe to leave them on the island with the Mormons.

“The murderers were taken to Mackinac [a nearby resort island] and given into the custody of the county sheriff, Mr. Granger…but they were never brought to trial.”

In the aftermath of Strang’s assassination an angry mob stormed the island in fire and brimstone destroying Mormon buildings forcing the Mormon families to flee the island.  It may be that the records of this period were thus destroyed.

Without their charismatic leader, many of Strang’s flock moved west into Utah joining Brigham Young.  Others held true to the Strangite faith holding true to what they had been taught carrying forward the Strangite traditions.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) exists today though they have but 130 active members, most in Burlington, Wisconsin, with others in Artesia, New Mexico and Castell, Texas.  The Strangites do not fellowship with the Brigham Young (fundamentalist) Mormons.  They worship on Saturday, rather than Sunday, hold to James Jesse Strang’s divinely insprired revelation “The Book of the Lord” in addition to the Book of Mormon, and have differing beliefs from normal Christendom and Mormonism on things such as the Virgin Birth of Mary which they do not believe.

There is a cemetery on Beaver Island, the St. James Cemetery, but no interments for James’ clan were found there.  I contacted the Beaver Island Historical Society and was told that they know and believe that there were Mormon burials on the island, they just don’t know where as they are not marked.

Looking through a few copies of the Mormon paper, the Daily Islander, I found reference to one man that died there, a James M. Greig.  An obituary as published on 16 September 1852 that reads…

“We unintentionally omitted the notice of the death of James M. Greig last week.  He died on the 2d inst. Of erysipelas, after a short but painful illness of about six days, and leaves a wife and six children to mourn his loss.  He was an estimable citizen, kind and affectionate, a lover of peace and good order, and his loss is felt by all who knew him.

“He was a native of N. Y., and from there he removed to Penn., where he resided for several years.  He became acquainted with the gospel of truth at Pittsburgh, in the early part of his life, and since he embraced it has been an able defender of the same to the end of his days; and departed this life with the assurance of a resurrection with the just, to reign with Christ a thousand years.”

How many others were buried there, women, men or children, we just don’t know.  The Church was on the island for a decade.  Others must have died there.  I contacted the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) to ask if membership records of the period had been kept and preserved, but did not receive a response.

Beaver Island has resurrected Strang’s Print Shop as an island museum.  It is open to the public.

Beaver Island Historical Society

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite)

Buried Mormon Treasure on Holy Island?

To the east of Beaver Island lies the city of Charlevoix nestled comfortably between Lake Michigan and the inland Lake Charlevoix.  Lake Charlevoix’s southern section contains a small island known as Holy Island.  I found a single reference to an alleged Mormon history on this island.  Published on 10 August 1912 in the Charlevoix County Herald, it reads…

“Treasure on Holy Island.

“Remains Where Hidden By King Strang.

“Place of Retreat of Mormons Being Transformed Into Resort of Exceptional Attractions.

“One of the interesting reports of resort development in the Pine Lake region is the purchase and improvement of Holy Island, the only island in Pine Lake and the last beauty spot still left in its original primeval grandeur.

“Situated as it is, commanding the entrance to the South arm of the lake within easy distance of Charlevoix and all the lake resorts, it seems to have been designed for the very purpose for which it is destined to become, “the resort par excellence.”

“The name was conferred upon it by King Strang, the famous Mormon leader of Beaver Island.  His romantic career and tragic end is still fresh in the minds of the older inhabitants who lived in Charlevoix when that now famous resort center was only a trading post and Indian mission on the shores of Pine river, which at that time was a wide shallow outlet to Pine Lake.  Stories of the naming of Holy Island by King Strang and of his treasure there are often told by the first settlers and as near as can be learned are as follows:

“After the Mormons were driven out of Navoo, Illinois, they, under the leadership of James (King) Strang came up Lake Michigan in boats and settled on Big Beaver Island where the village of St. James now stands.  Here they remained for years making a pretense at farming but being in reality pirates.  They spent the greater part of this time in pillage and robbery along the shores of the northern part of Lake Michigan.  Nets were lifted and fish stolen, boats and traps were appropriated, false light put up and vessels wrecked and their crews never heard of again.  Settlers’ homes were also pillaged and stock removed to the island homes of the rovers.

“The government was notified and a war vessel was dispatched to St. James to investigate, but the crafty Strang was notified in some way of her coming and moved all of the valuable goods that could be identified up into Pine Lake and buried them on Holy Island.  Vessels could not enter Pine Lake at that time for the dredging of the channel at Charlevoix did not take place until long afterward.

“Strang was exonerated by the government on account of the lack of evidence and he soon became bolder than before.  It is said he planned to pillage the villages of Charlevoix and Petoskey and if successful to abandon St. James and join Brigham Young at Salt Lake City, Utah.  His last adventure was unsuccessful, as he was repulsed by the citizens of Charlevoix in what was called the battle of Pine River, and driven to his home at St. James.  This did not save him for the angered settlers followed him that night to his strong-hold and as he rushed from his residence to sound the alarm of the coming of his pursuers, he fell with a musket ball through his heart.  With the death of Strang his band scattered going across the lake to Wisconsin and thence to Utah to join the other Mormons.

“The treasure buried on Holy Island remains a sealed book, all attempts to locate it being fruitless, but the old arches used for cooking by the Mormons and part of their stone fort still remain.  In the recent cutting and grading of boulevards, traces of an old excavation are to be seen and Mr. McLean, owner, has a fine collection of stone arrow heads and other flint relics found by the workmen, but the buried treasure has failed to give up its hiding place.”

Reading over this story I couldn’t help but see the inaccuracies throughout especially concerning Strang’s death.  The facts state that Strang was shot twice but did not die from a single musket ball through the heart, which would have surely killed him on the spot.  Strang lived another six weeks post-shooting.

Yes, an angry mob did storm the island, but this was after Strang’s assassination.  Neither would Strang have made plans to meet up with Brigham Young.  Strang and his followers firmly believed that Strang was the lawful successor to Joseph Smith, not Young, and did not adhere to Young’s fundamentalist teachings.  That some of Strang’s followers did move west into Utah after Strang’s death is a likely occurrence, but not all.  Probably very few in number did so.

The article bases its premise on Strang and his followers being pirates, raiding and looting villagers.  This was the accusation for which Strang was acquitted.  There was not enough evidence to find him guilty.  But would he have taken everything stolen across the lake, past the village of Charlevoix, down the river to Holy Island to bury what had been stolen?  Just doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Still the urban legend of the Mormon treasure buried on Holy Island remains.  There may be an answer to why no treasure has been found there…perhaps there isn’t any.

James Jesse Strang was an enigmatic figure, an important part of Michigan history, though brief.  His people have left a lasting impression on Beaver Island, the surrounding islands, and on the city of Charlevoix with most at least having heard his name if not of his person.  Beaver Island is inhabited year-round by a few Michiganians but doesn’t really blossom until the Summer months when others arrive to their vacation homes.  The island does have a perimeter road, an airport, and a harbor that welcomes a ferry that runs to and from Charlevoix.  It is a beautiful place to visit and one rich in Michigan history.


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